Ballots sent out to some Westmoreland voters after delay spurred by issues with contractor

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After years of waiting, Larry Franklin was finally ready to cast his first vote for a United States president.

All that was stopping him from doing so was his ballot, which he had expected to receive this week in the mail. On Friday, it had yet to arrive.

Franklin, 67, of Monessen, along with dozens of others, came to the Westmoreland County Courthouse in Greensburg to cast his vote in person rather than rely on the mail to deliver ballots. Franklin said he wanted to ensure his vote would count ahead of a trip next week to Africa, where he’ll spend the next several months visiting his daughter.

“I don’t know why we don’t have ballots already,” Franklin said.

Franklin’s ballot and nearly 60,000 others were to have been mailed last week. The first batch of ballots was finally sent out to 8,000 voters Friday morning after a weeklong delay, county officials said.

Westmoreland officials blamed the delay on the Ohio-based private company hired to send out mail-in ballots.

“The county’s contracted mailing company, Midwest Direct, has experienced delays due to both increased volume and mechanical issues,” county officials said in a statement.

Officials at Midwest Direct Presort Mailing in Cleveland did not return multiple calls seeking comment.

Because of the delay, Franklin may have to get on the plane next week without voting. County elections officials refused to allow him to vote at the courthouse Friday because his requested ballot was now in the mail.

“Most of my life I was denied to vote, so this is a big deal,” Franklin said. “There’s nothing I can do now. My flight is leaving for Ghana on Oct. 15 at 6 a.m., so if I don’t have it by then I can’t vote.”

Voters can drop off completed mail-in ballots at the courthouse. Starting Tuesday, the elections bureau office will remain open for an additional three hours, until 7 p.m., on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursday until the Nov. 3 election.

Petition drive

Meanwhile, growing concerns about possible voter suppression in the wake of the county’s issues getting mail-in ballots to voters spurred a local grass-roots group to action.

Clare Dooley, a leader of Voice of Westmoreland, a nonpartisan grassroots group, said reports detailing the county’s failure to get ballots out in a timely fashion prompted the group to launch a petition seeking six additional drop boxes for the return of mail-in ballots.

“Within three hours, we had 600 signatures,” Dooley said. “We’re planning on gathering more signatures and presenting the petition to the county when the board meets Tuesday.”

The petition stressed the need for immediate action.

Commissioners are scheduled to conduct a public meeting Tuesday morning at the courthouse, acting as the county’s elections board, when they will finalize preparations for the general election. Solicitor Melissa Guiddy said additional drop box locations and satellite elections offices in the county are expected to be approved.

Drop boxes, secure locations where voters may return mail-in ballots in lieu of taking them to the post office or the main county election office, were among three options lawmakers provided when they expanded the availability of no-excuse mail-in voting last year.

The decision to use drop boxes and where to locate them is left to county officials. While some of the state’s more populous counties had multiple drop boxes last spring, others were hesitant to embrace the concept that President Trump’s campaign has challenged in court.

During the spring primary, Westmoreland County had one drop box, inside the main door at Courthouse Square.

The Voice of Westmoreland petition asks that commissioners place drop boxes in Monessen, New Kensington, Latrobe, Ligonier, Mt. Pleasant and Rostraver and make drop box service available between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. from now through Nov. 3.

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